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Full text of "Playboy 1962.09 The Bloody Pulps"


IHE BLOODY PULPS 

no5to/g/a By CHARLES BEAUMONT 



in the days of our youth they were not 

deemed good reading and to us at the time 

they weren't good, they were great 




Playboy, September 1962 



THERE WAS A RITUAL. 

It was dark and mysterious, as rituals ought to 
be, and — for those who enacted it — a holy and 
enchanted thing. 

If you were a prepubescent American male in the 
Twenties, the Thirties or the Forties, chances are 
you performed the ritual. If you were a little too 
tall, a little too short, a little too fat, skinny, pimply, 
an only child, painfully shy, awkward, scared of 
girls, terrified of bullies, poor at your schoolwork 
(not because you weren't bright but because you 
wouldn't apply yourself), uncomfortable in large 
crowds, given to brooding, and totally and 
overwhelmingly convinced of your personal 
inadequacy in any situation, then you certainly 
performed it. 

Which is to say, you worshiped at the shrine of 
the pulps. 

What were the pulps? 

Cheaply printed, luridly illustrated, sensationally 
written magazines of fiction aimed at the lower and 
lower-middle classes. 

Were they any good? No. They were great. 

Doc Savage, The Shadow, The Spider, G-8 and 
His Battle Aces, The Phantom, Adventure, Argosy, 
Blue Book, Black Mask, Thrilling Wonder Stories, 
Marvel Tales — and all the hundred-and-one other 
titles that bedizened the newsstands of America in 
the halcyon days — provided ecstasy and euphoria 
of a type unknown to this gloomy generation. They 
made to crawl deliciously young scalps. They 
inspired, excited, captivated, hypnotized — and, 
unexpectedly, instructed — the reckless young who 
have become responsible adults. Of course, they 
were infra dig. In line with the imperishable 
American concept that anything that is purely 
enjoyable must be a sin, the pulps were considered 
sinful. Although they were, at their worst (or best), 
fractionally as "objectionable" as the immoral, 
amoral, violent, perverted product available 
nowadays to any tennis-shoe-shod sub-teen who 
has the price of admission to a movie theater or 
access to a television set, they were proscribed by 
most parents and all educators. Thus we indulged in 
them in much the same way that we indulged in the 
other purely enjoyable facts of life. Which was an 
altogether agreeable state of affairs. Fortunately, the 
psychologists of the day did not understand the 
special sweetness of the stolen watermelon. So they 
denounced the pulps, wrote tracts on the fearful 
consequences certain to befall those whose minds 
were polluted by "the newsstand trash" and 
otherwise did their best to create a nation of 
addicts. 

Addicts we certainly were. We gave ourselves 
over wholly to the habit and pursuit of the most 



potent literary drug known to boy, and all of us 
suffer withdrawal symptoms to this day. No one 
ever kicked the pulps cold turkey. They were too 
powerful an influence. Instead, most of us tried to 
ease off. Having dreamed of owning complete sets, 
in mint condition, of all the pulp titles ever 
published, and having realized perhaps a tenth part 
of the dream — say, 1500 magazines, or a 
bedroomful — we suffered that vague disen- 
chantment that is the first sign of approaching 
maturity (16, going on 17, was usually when it 
happened) and decided to be sensible. Accordingly, 
we stopped buying all the new mags as fast as they 
could appear, and concentrated instead upon a few 
indispensable items. Gradually we cut down until 
we were keeping up the files on only three or four, 
or possibly five or six, publications. After a few 
years, when we had left high school, we got the 
number down to two. Which is where most of us 
stand today. We don't read the magazines, of 
course. But we go on buying them. Not regularly, 
and not in any sense because we want to, but 
because we must. It is an obligation, a duty, to the 
bright untroubled selves we were. To plunge any 
further into adulthood would be an act of betrayal. 

But the times have betrayed us, anyway. The 
pulps, as we knew and loved them, are gone. The 
gaudy, gory covers, the dramatic interior 
illustrations, the machine-gun prose, the rough, 
rich-smelling, wood-chip-speckled paper — all gone. 
The so-called "pulps" of 1962 are nothing of the 
kind. They are slickly printed, slickly written 
echoes of their own great past. Look -di Argosy now, 
and then think of the magazine as it was when H. 
Bedford-Jones and A. Hyatt Verrill and Arthur Leo 
Zagat were waging their bloody Mongol wars; pick 
up the diminutive, pocket-size, lightweight 
Amazing Stories and try to imagine it 20 years ago 
when its special quarterly edition was the size of a 
dictionary (unabridged) and more exciting than a 
ride in a roller coaster. Buy one of these 
emasculated ghosts and display it on a subway. 
Wait for the frowns, and go on waiting forever — 
there won't be any. The "pulps" are now socially 
acceptable, and I can think of no greater damnation 
of them. 

Only the well-remembered "eight-pagers" (Toots 
and Casper, Dick Tracy, etc.) carried a greater 
stigma than the old-time adventure magazines. 

Happily, no sober, critical evaluation of pulps is 
possible. Like any other narcotic, they defy rational 
analysis. One can speak of their effects, even of 
their ingredients, but not — without wearisome and 
unconvincing pomposity — of their causes. 
Something in them froze the addict's critical 
faculties. He might entertain a difference of opinion 



Playboy, September 1962 



on the relative merits of Putnam's translation of 
Don Quixote as opposed to Shelton's, but on the 
subject of Weird Tales he was, and is, adamant. 

Reacting with typically honest fury to criticism 
of one of his favorite pulp writers, the eminent 
regional novelist and historian August Derleth 
wrote not too long ago: "With that sublime, 
egocentric stupidity which characterizes a certain 
subspecies of frustrate which goes in for book 
reviewing in order to find some compensation for 
its own singular lack of creative ability by 
deprecating the work of those who are creative, a 
reviewer recently brushed aside a book of 
supernatural tales as being, after all, 'only pulp- 
fiction.' The reviewer offered no evidence of being 
able to say just what stigma attached to writing for 
the so-called 'pulp' magazines." 

Of course the reviewer who enraged Derleth 
could not have been an addict, so he ought to be 
forgiven; particularly in that, no matter what he 
said, he was probably right. To the hooked, those 
wild and wonderful stories were all great; to the 
unhooked (a state of being difficult for the hooked 
to imagine), they were no doubt dreadful, hardly to 
be classed as literature. 

It is true that they were unlike any other 
literature to which we had been exposed. Before 
our encounters with Black Mask and similar 
periodicals, we tended to think of adventures as 
belonging to a previous age. Buccaneers. Indians, 
Frontier Fighters, Soldiers of Fortune — all were in 
the past, we thought. Then we read the pulps and 
learned that adventure surrounded us, that danger 
was omnipresent, evil a threat to be countered at all 
odds, and science not a laboratory curiosity but, 
instead, an active tool. We learned a lot of other 
things, too, including the quaint but useful lesson 
that it is more rewarding to be a good guy than a 
bad guy. 

Take Doc Savage (as we did, in large uncut 
doses). Here truly was a worthwhile idol, a man 
among men. His admirers called him "The Mental 
Marvel," "The Scientific Genius," "The Muscular 
Midas." His enemies called him "The Yankee 
Menace." He fought on the side of Right, inspiring 
fear and respect in those who would threaten the 
U.S. of A., instantaneous passion in all women who 
ever caught a glimpse of him, and joy in the hearts 
of his many fans. We loved him. For his 
indefatigable attacks on the fortress of Evil, surely; 
and for his incredible feats of derring-do; but 
mostly we loved him because of his willingness to 
share with us the secrets of his self-development 
exercises. Doc was a model of fitness. The wisdom 
of the old fox shone from his "strange, flake-gold 
eyes," but his bronzed body was that of a young 



god: lithe, sinewy, powerful. Nor was this a happy 
accident of nature, but, rather, the result of rigid 
discipline. The Doc Savage Plan of Living was 
eventually made available to the general readership, 
"in answer to innumerable requests." However, the 
editor warned us that: "Important as these exercises 
may be, and as much as they may accomplish in 
building you up physically, mentally and morally, 
they should be only the basis for bigger things in 
life." What bigger things the editor had in mind, we 
did not know. If through the Plan of .Living we 
attained the abilities of Doc Savage (and the 
implication was that we would), then we must be 
equal to anything, for the Man of Bronze was even 
more accomplished than any of his five assistants — 
and they were the best in the world: 

Brigadier General Theodore Marley Brooks, 
"Ham" for short. Harvard Law School's most 
distinguished graduate and America's best-dressed 
man, who carried a natty black cane within which 
nestled a slender sword tipped with a mysterious 
sleep-inducing drug developed by: 

Lieutenant Colonel Andrew Blodgett "Monk" 
Mayfair, one of the world's greatest chemists, a 
shy, gentle, squeaky-voiced man with the build of a 
gorilla and the tenacity of a scorpion; 

Colonel John Renwick, engineer extraordinary, 
whose gallon-pail fists came in handy whenever a 
thick door panel needed smashing in; 

Major Thomas J. "Long Tom" Roberts, an 
electrical wizard, sturdy of mind, frail of physique; 

And, far from least, the archeologist and 
geologist, William Harper Littlejohn, whose 
specialty was the English language. He would have 
sent us all scurrying to our dictionaries had not 
author Kenneth Robeson thoughtfully translated his 
transcendental philological peregrinations. (As it 
was, "Johnny" did contribute importantly to our 
vocabularies. For a time we all used his colorful 
substitute for profanity: "I'll be super- 
amalgamated!") 

With this fabulous confederacy of adventurers, 
headed always by Clark Savage, Jr., M.D. 
(specializing in brain surgery when he was not 
fighting the International Cartels of Evil), we 
traveled under the earth's surface, beneath the sea, 
into palaces of ice at the North Pole, through the 
jungles of Southeast Asia, into vast caverns on the 
Equator, and down the reeky slums of the world's 
biggest and most mysterious cities. We were 
introduced by Robeson (a nom de plume for 
pulpster Lester Dent) to Kant and Lombroso. We 
were imbued with a healthy respect for scientists in 
particular and education in general. How else save 
through education could Doc have invented such 
marvels as his machine pistol, which fired "mercy 



Playboy, September 1962 



bullets," gas pellets or explosive shells at so 
fantastic a rate of speed that it sounded like an 
extended low note played on a bull fiddle; or his 
capacity detector, which like an old regenerative 
radio emitted a squeal whenever its field was 
interrupted; or the candy bar that kept you awake 
and supplied vitamins at the same time; or the wrist 
radios, the automatic door openers, the self- 
contained underwater breathing apparatus, etc.? 

Within two or three issues after its introduction, 
the Doc Savage magazine was selling 200,000 
copies per month. Robeson/Dent cranked out over a 
hundred novel-length adventures, turning his Man 
of Bronze into the most popular fictional character 
of the period. 

Then there was The Shadow. He didn't exactly 
eclipse Doc, but he cast a hell of a dark pall over 
our hero. We thought it was because he was more 
believable. After all, didn't each story begin with 
the declaimer that it was "from the private annals of 
The Shadow, as told to Maxwell Grant"? Of course. 
It was no problem to believe that Lamont Cranston 
existed and that the man known as The Shadow 
assumed his identity whenever it was necessary for 
him to emerge from the blackness of the city night 
to accomplish some high-level mission. Unlike 
Doc, who operated in a realm where law- 
enforcement officers were seldom present, 
Cranston carried on a regular fox-and-hounds with 
the police, and in particular with Inspector Cardona. 
The milieu, if not the situations, was recognizable. 

Fans who knew this master crime fighter only 
through his radio adventures knew him not at all. 
For the real lowdown, you had to go to the 
magazines. There, in the pulpy pages, he existed in 
all his weird and inexplicable glory. 

From his sanctum in an unidentified warehouse 
(lit only by a blue lamp). The Shadow 
communicated through his contact man, Burbank, 
with a small army of operatives: Hawkeye, a small- 
time crook; Cliff Marsland, a free-lance mobster; 
Harry Vincent, sometime reporter; and the 
indispensable hackie, Moe Shrevnitz. Upon 
receiving news of impending, or recently 
committed, crime. The Shadow would blend into 
the dimness of the evening and appear — with or 
without his confederates — to challenge the worst of 
evils. A master of disguises, he did not rely entirely 
on concealment: a bit of wax in the cheeks, a touch 
of makeup here and there, an affected slouch, limp 
or drooped shoulder, and he might become a 
Bowery bum, a cripple or even a scrubwoman. He 
was also a master psychologist, as demonstrated in 
Maxwell Grant's straightforward prose (which was 
the actual cause of The Shadow's ascendancy over 
Doc Savage): 



"There Badger saw The Shadow. 

"Had he faced an armed policeman, the mobster 
would have fired. But sight of The Shadow 
overwhelmed him. Blazing eyes made the wounded 
crook falter. His gun hand wavered; sagged. 

"A product of the underworld. Badger was one 
who had bragged often that he would like the 
chance to gain a pot shot at The Shadow. But in this 
crisis. Badger failed. 

"The Shadow had expected it." 

To those of us who lived with The Shadow 
through twoscore pulp-paper perils, the radio 
episodes were a considerable letdown. Aside from 
the blood-curdling laugh and the sibilant assurances 
(delivered by Orson Welles) that "The weed of 
crime bears bitter fruit" and "What evil lurks in the 
hearts of men? The Shadow knows," we felt that 
there was too little resemblance between the radio 
show and the "real" adventures. The half-hour 
dramatizations were interesting enough, but really. 
The Shadow did not have to depend upon hypnosis 
(". . . the power to cloud men's minds") in order to 
make his way unseen across rooftops and through 
dim hallways. And, there was entirely too much 
hanky-panky with Margo Lane, a sex interest who 
drifted into the magazine's previously chaste pages 
and did much to confirm our suspicion that women 
ought to leave important matters to men. 

The scripts for the radio dramas were written by 
Harry Chariot, who died in a poisoning mystery as 
intriguing as any Shadow novel; but each of the 178 
book-lengthers — 7,500,000 words of print — was 
turned out by Maxwell Grant. 

Looking back on those two great heroes. Doc 
and The Shadow, one wonders what ever prompted 
the disapproving attitude held by adults. Search as 
they might through the corpus of English literature, 
they could not have found two such spotless, 
virtuous, moral and right-thinking characters. 

Perhaps it was this: that at the time, we were 
receiving the dregs of a prejudice that had been 
developed in a previous generation against "yellow 
journalism"; and that our pulps were the 
descendants of a long line of lower-class literature, 
much of it salacious, all of it beneath the attention 
of the better element. 

For our pulps were no instant phenomenon of the 
period but, instead, the outgrowth of a fiction form 
now 130 years old. 



When titles for paperbacked books hawked by 
chapmen who peddled shoelaces and pincushions 
still ran to such intriguing lengths as: ''The 
Affecting History of Sally Williams; afterwards 
Tippling Sally. Shewing how she left her father's 



Playboy, September 1962 



house to follow an officer, who seduced her; and 
how she took to drinking, and at last became a vile 
prostitute, died in a hospital and was dissected by 
the surgeons. Tending to shew the pernicious 
effects of dram drinking" there was an experiment 
begun in a more flexible medium for popular 
reading than the books — the newspaper. When all 
the available news was quick and easily disposed of 
in a page or two, it was natural that other attractions 
should be used to fill space. Accordingly, fictional 
narratives were tried with instantaneous success. 

The outgrowth of this was the family story 
paper, an institution that persisted until the turn of 
this century. The story papers secured and kept 
readership by offering "plenty of sensation and no 
philosophy," as Robert Bonner — publisher of one 
of the most famous and long-lived of the 
publications — described their approach. In the 
guise of uplifting and edifying the public about 
conditions at large, these prepulpsters gleefully 
exploited the seamy and vice-ridden side of life. 

It was but a step from fictionalizing the lives of 
actual people to the creation of fictional beings who 
would be passed off as real. The Old Sleuth, who 
first appeared in The Fireside Companion in 1872, 
was the direct sire of all the thousand private eyes 
whose legal depredations have flourished in print, 
on the air and on the screen, ever since. He was 
thought for many years to be a genuine living 
person, but when his creators began running as 
many as three different installment adventures in 
each weekly paper, the public caught on. No mere 
human could possibly accomplish in one lifetime 
the deeds attributed to The Old Sleuth. 

However, no one doubted the existence of the 
next pulp hero: Buffalo Bill. With his appearance, 
the younger generation of boys — untempted by 
aged detectives and love-stuff — began to devour 
the story papers; and a tradition was born. General 
disapproval was followed by pulpit blasts, 
confiscation, hide-tannings and stern talkings-to. 
But the kids had found an idol. 

Buffalo Bill is inextricably entwined with the 
legend of his creator, Ned Buntline, otherwise 
known as Edward Zane Carroll Judson, whose real 
life was far more fraught with peril and adventure 
than William Cody's ever was. 

Judson: ran away to sea at the age of 1 1 ; served 
in the Seminole War in Florida; was lynched by an 
incensed mob in Nashville, Tennessee, after he'd 
killed a jealous husband in a duel; escaped the 
lynching when the rope broke; organized a riot in 
New York City and was jailed for a year; fought 
with the Union Army in the Civil War, emerging as 
a colonel with 20 bullets in his body; then went 
West to roam the untamed land with Wild Bill 



Hickok, Texas Jack and a youngster named 
William Frederick Cody. 

Cody wore his golden hair at shoulder length, 
sported a goatee, fringed jacket and wide-brimmed 
cowboy hat, and was altogether the living prototype 
of the fictional Western hero "Ned Buntline" had in 
mind. Assisted by Cody's grandiloquent tales of 
hunting expeditions and Indian battles, plus a 
recounting of his ceaseless efforts to avenge the 
death of his father in the Bloody Kansas struggle, 
Buntline started the most popular series of stories 
America had ever read. Not that E. Z. C. Judson 
was a tyro seeking inspiration. He was, at the time 
of his "Know Nothing" Party riot in New York, one 
of the best paid writers in the world. But his own 
experiences were, so he thought, commonplace. He 
was certain that realistic yarns of the new frontier 
would eclipse any personal reminiscences he could 
get into print. So he decided to "immortalize" 
Buffalo Bill. 

The great cowboy's saga began irresistibly, 
setting a style which seldom varied: 

Ned Buntline's Great Story !! 
Buffalo Bill 

The King of the Border Men! 

The wildest and truest story 

I ever wrote. 

By NED BUNTLINE 
(E. Z. C. Judson) 

CHAPTER I 

"An oasis of green wood on a Kansas prairie — a 
bright stream shining like liquid silver in the 
moonlight — a log house built under the limbs of 
great trees — within this home, a happy group. This 
is my first picture. 

"Look well on the leading figure in that group. 
You will see him but once, yet on his sad fate 
hinges all the wild and fearful realities which are to 
follow, drawn to a very great extent, not from 
imagination but from life itself . . ." 

Buntline goes on to describe the family at its 
evening devotions. Then, suddenly, there is the 
sound of hoof-beats. A cry: "Hallo — the house!" 
Father Cody opens the door. He is greeted by the 
jeers of Southern sympathizers and the taunts of 
"Colonel M'Kandlas" — who levels his pistol and 
fires! Father Cody, good husband and outstanding 
Christian, clutches at his chest and falls dead before 
his horrified family. Then: 

"'If them gals was a little older — but never 
mind, boys, this will be a lesson for the sneaks that 
come upon the border — let's be off, for there's 



Playboy, September 1962 



plenty more work to do before daylight!' continued 
the wretch, turning the head of his horse to ride 
away. 

"'Stop!' 

"It was but a single word — spoken, too, by a boy 
whose blue eyes shone wildly in a face as white as 
new-fallen snow and full as cold — spoken as he 
stood erect over the body of his dead father, 
weaponless and alone. 

"Yet that ruffian, aye, and all of his mad 
wreckless crew, stopped as if a mighty spell was 
laid upon them. 

"'You, Jake M'Kandlas, have murdered my 
father! You, base cowards, who saw him do this 
dark deed, spoke no word to restrain him. I am only 
Little Bill, his son, but as God in Heaven hears me 
now, I will kill every father's son of you before the 
beard grows on my face!'" 

"Little Bill" soon became big Bill, and in weekly 
installments held the nation captive as he sought 
vengeance, killed buffalo, scouted the plains, led 
the Cavalry to victory after victory, and dueled with 
the fiercest Indian chiefs. He was the bravest man 
on earth and the most exciting figure in all of 
literature — to small-fry, anyway. 

His popularity continued for many years, carried 
on after Judson's death by an equally improbable 
writer named Colonel Prentiss Ingraham, who had 
fought with Lee and Juarez. But after a while Street 
& Smith — then, as now, the leading pulp 
publishers — decided that Westerns were on the 
wane. So they began to think of other ways to tap 
the pockets of youngsters. 

Although entertainments were not omnipresent, 
as they are today, loose coin was in 
correspondingly short supply. Accordingly, it took 
a solid jolt on the cover of a magazine (the natural 
development of the story papers) and a substantial 
dose of interior escape to effect the transfer of a 
week's spending money from knickers to 
newsstand vendors. 

Nick Carter was the answer. 

He first appeared as the protege of "Seth Parker, 
the old detective" (a not-too-subtle revival of The 
Old Sleuth) in a story written by John Russell 
Coryell. Ormond Smith, at that time head of the 
Street & Smith firm, liked the idea of a young 
detective, and assigned Frederick van Rensselaer 
Dey to do a series featuring Nick Carter. It was an 
immediate sensation. 

The masthead of The Nick Carter Weekly 
portrayed a clean-cut collar-ad youth in the center 
of the page, surrounded by sketches of "Nick Carter 
in various disguises": a queued Chinese laborer; a 
monocled fop; a gray-haired grandmother; a straw- 



chewing, bearded rube; a top-hatted industrialist 
puffing a cigar; and a toothy Negro. It was plain 
that Carter was a master of the art of changing 
appearance. He carried paints, droopy mustaches 
and wigs at all times, and could become another 
person faster than Clark Kent turns into Superman. 
Unlike the shamus we know in current literature, 
Nick disdained alcohol, tobacco and sex. Yet, in the 
true traditions of his craft, he encouraged the 
perpetration of mayhem upon his person, suffering 
as many head-cloutings, jaw-smashings, 
waylayings and maimings as his descendant, Mike 
Hammer. 

When we consider that the writers who filled the 
pages of our favorite crime-laden paperbacks were 
brought up, most of them, on Nick Carter, we can 
understand the near inflexibility of the stalwart, 
high-principled hero enmeshed in violent situations 
formula. It carried the first recognizable private eye 
to peaks of popularity even higher than those 
attained by Buffalo Bill. 



Most of the out-and-out sensationalism to which 
educators and clergymen objected in the 19th 
Century was contained not in the Street & Smith 
pulps but in the physically similar dime novels. 
Beadle & Adams, publishers, clothed their little 
publications in orange covers, but the content was 
usually "yellow." 

Within this form one of America's best-known, 
least-talented and most fondly remembered authors 
made his mark. Horatio Alger, Jr., wrote 119 books 
(or, as a critic commented, "one book, rewritten 
118 times") about poor boys who persevered 
throughout adversity and gained wealth and fame as 
their reward. There was nothing in these morality 
tales to shock the mildest country minister (indeed, 
Alger was a sometime Unitarian minister himself), 
yet they were frowned upon and, probably as a 
result, sold an almost unbelievable 250,000,000 
copies. 

In his college days, Alger was known as "Holy 
Horatio," generally because of his starchy, 
abstemious nature and specifically because one 
night he refused to cooperate with his landlady, 
who had walked into his room stark naked and 
asked him to join her in a tango. A subsequent trip 
to Paris, however, fired him with worldly ideas and 
experiences — he wrote in his diary: "I was a fool to 
have waited so long. It is not nearly so vile as I had 
thought" — and he returned to the United States 
willing, if not downright eager, to sample earthly 
joys. Of course, as everyone knows who has ever 
brushed with his literary corpus, no trace of this 
moral liberation ever found its way into the Horatio 



Playboy, September 1962 



Alger, Jr., books, except as illustrations of the evils 
young men must struggle to avoid. These 
illustrations gobbled up dimes from the nation's 
youth and were passed along in secret delight like 
so many pornographic pictures. 

With the appearance of Frank Merriwell, the 
Street & Smith company assumed unchallenged 
leadership of the adventure-fiction market. 
Merriwell — a Yale student, as everyone knows; or, 
more properly, the Yale student — was created by 
Burt L. Standish, in the late 1890s. Standish's 
experience with the university he was to 
immortalize consisted of his attendance at a half- 
dozen football games and a single stroll around the 
campus; yet he made Yale so real and Merriwell so 
believable that enrollment at the college increased 
by hundreds. 

The literary quality of these stories was 
regrettably low, though not so low as in the Alger 
epics. The late George Jean Nathan actually 
claimed to enjoy them and often beat the drum for a 
return to those simple values. He regarded the 
absence of a Standish biography as the most glaring 
and insupportable omission in American literary 
history. "His readers numbered millions," Nathan 
complained. "For one who read Mark Twain's 
Huckleberry Finn or Tom Sawyer, there were 
10,000 who read Standish's Frank Merriwell' s 
Dilemma or The Rescue of Inza and Frank 
Merriwell at Yale or The Winning Last Quarter- 
Mile. The little candy and cigar stores of that day, 
the chief distributing centers of the Standish opera, 
had longer lines of small boys with nickels in their 
hands every Friday than Barnum's or Forepaugh's 
circus could ever boast . . ." 



Pawnee Bill, John L., Jr., Clif Faraday of 
Annapolis, Mark Mallory of West Point and 
Diamond Dick were the heroes who followed 
Merriwell. They were uniformly antiseptic types, 
but they assumed a degree of importance to 
America's mass readership that no literary creation 
of recent times has been able to duplicate. For years 
they rode tall, shrugging off the bullets of Wrong- 
doers and the slings and arrows of critics; but they 
could not defend themselves against their greatest 
enemy: Growing Sophistication. One by one they 
bit the dust. Buffalo Bill was the last to fall, and a 
sad day it was. He was laid to rest in 1919 and 
mourned on the masthead of the zippy, modern 
magazine that did him in. 

It is that magazine — Western Story Magazine — 
Formerly New Buffalo Bill Weekly — which forms 
our direct link with the past. 



For more than 30 years. Western Story Magazine 
(the Buffalo Bill subtitle was soon dropped) 
appeared twice a month. Most of us cut our teeth on 
it. While Soldiers of Fortune, Scientific Detectives 
and Yellow Menaces provided aperitif, appetizer 
and dessert, the changeless saga of the American 
West was our main course. Every kid on every 
block dreamed of being a sheriff, and "Cowboys" 
was the national game. 

Thanks in large part to a moody, tortured genius 
called Frederick Schiller Faust. We didn't know 
him by that name. We knew Max Brand, George 
Owen Baxter, Martin Dexter, Evin Evans, David 
Manning, Peter Dawson, John Frederick, Pete 
Morland. But they were all Faust, the most 
incredibly prolific — and unquestionably the best — 
pulp writer in the business. 

His almost innumerable stories were usually 
variations of the primitive Vengeance theme, yet 
they had — and have — an unaccountable freshness 
and vitality. Unaccountable, that is, until one recalls 
that Brand/Faust had the instincts, if not the skill, of 
a serious author. For pulp fiction in general, and his 
own in particular, he had supreme contempt. He 
never read over his first drafts. He never saw the 
magazines in which his work appeared; indeed, the 
first rule of his house was that no adventure 
magazine of any description would be tolerated on 
the premises. He genuinely hated "Max Brand" and 
the rest of the pseudonymous stable. Yet he was the 
absolute master of the craft, and of every other 
form of writing except that which he most 
respected. At serious prose and poetry he was, 
fortunately for us and tragically for him, a failure. 
His occasional slim volumes, published under his 
real name, were mostly attic-scented, bloodless, 
pedestrian, worthless. And he knew it, and it broke 
his heart. 

Tiring of the pulps' low pay. Brand moved on to 
the slicks where he was equally successful. Warner 
Brothers paid him $3000 a week. MGM gave him a 
fortune for creating Dr. Kildare (currently a 
television series). He made more money than any 
other writer of that period, yet he was consistently 
broke. "It costs me $70,000 a year just to survive," 
he commented at a time when $4000 was considered 
a good annual wage. 

Seeking refuge from his disappointment, Faust 
became an alcoholic and, in 1938, was sent to Italy 
to die. Instead of dying, he fell in love with the 
country and developed into one of its champion 
tennis players. He took up horseback riding. He 
bought an Isotta-Fraschini and earned the sobriquet 
"The Fast American." But all the while, he 
continued to crank out his pulp fiction. He had to. 
Compelled to find an excuse for the failure that, he 



Playboy, September 1962 



knew, would eventually crush him, he bought a 
palatial villa in Florence, staffed it with servants 
and tutors, and kept his standard of living 
stratospherically high. He was still the King of the 
Pulps when the war broke out. Deeply affected, and 
yearning for some real adventure, Faust — aged 
51 — managed to talk the American Army into 
giving him a set of war correspondent credentials. 
His first assignment, on the front lines, was his last. 
Fifth man over the top, he was cut down by enemy 
fire; and so he died, clutching an olive branch, in 
the Italian hills he loved. 

By a mysterious coincidence, the pulps them- 
selves began to cough out their life at about this 
time, as though the passing of their king had left 
them blind and weak and unable to survive. 



We heard no death knell. As we stretched out on 
the lawn swing with a copy of Spicy Detective 
Stories, we heard only the whisssk-whisssk-whisssk 
of the rotating sprinklers, the distant rumble of 
streetcars and a voice crying "0/e ole ocean 
freeeeeF And, of course, Dan Turner's gun, 
sneezing kachow-kachow! The world was a small, 
quiet place for most of us then, and it was for that 
reason, as much as for any other, that we escaped 
into the vast, noisy world of the pulps. 

They were at the crest of their popularity just 
before and during the war years. Hundreds of titles 
offered an almost unbelievable variety of reading 
experiences to the American teenager, and most 
were well within the boundaries of good taste — the 
same boundaries over which our television 
networks leap casually every hour of every day in 
this age. 

It must be admitted, however, that only those 
who actually bothered to read the magazines could 
be expected to understand this. Their physical 
appearance suggested nothing short of mortal sin. 
Something about the quality of the paper — so 
exciting to kids — summoned up, for adults, visions 
of brothels, public toilets, French postcards and 
petty crime. The illustrations, generally of a low 
order of craftsmanship, depicted scenes of extreme 
violence. But it was the covers, more than anything 
else, that turned the grownup world against the 
pulps. To say that they were lurid is to say that the 
Atlantic Ocean is wet. They were fantastic. In a 
way unknown to me, and unduplicated by artists in 
any other field, those masters of the brush managed 
to work sex, action, horror, terror, beauty, ugliness, 
virtue, sin, and a dozen other elements, into every 
picture they painted. Their goal was to tempt the 
newsstand browser into parting with cash, and this 
goal they achieved with complete success. But they 



achieved a great deal more. Most pulp addicts were 
foxy enough to know that the cover of a magazine 
seldom bore the slightest connection to the fiction it 
was supposed to illustrate, that, indeed, the "backs" 
were simply come-ons for saps and suckers; yet we 
revered those pulp artists and regarded their 
contribution, and their position, as being equal to 
those of the writers. 

Consider a typical Spicy Detective Stories cover. 
This rich oeuvre portrayed a leggy blonde whose 
pink-and-white skin was so dewy fresh as to be 
palpable. Clad only in ripped black-lace panties, 
she clutched another garment to her meticulously 
rendered, melon-heavy breasts, concealing little of 
either. Her face was a mask of fear, and with good 
reason: a blue-black automatic thrust toward her 
like a finger of doom. 

Needless to say, no such scene was to be 
encountered in the lead story (titillatingly titled 
Murder in the Harem). In this classic "dirty 
magazine," confiscated on sight by all parents and 
custodians, sex was treated with the slightly leering 
but profound innocence of the neighborhood know- 
all. The authors, chief among them Robert Leslie 
Bellem, larded their narratives with suggestive 
dialog and took care to describe "her silk-clad, 
lissome body," "a flash of white thigh," "breasts 
straining at their silken prison," etc., but the truth is 
that a diet of reading restricted to Spicy Detective 
Stories would do nothing to dissuade one from 
belief in the theory of the stork. The same holds for 
such other "legendary" pulps as Spicy Western, 
Spicy-Adventure and Breezy Stories. They were not 
so much read as examined, or searched, for "hot 
parts"; and if the editors had been thoughtful 
enough to print the mildly erotic sections in a 
different color, they would have saved us all a lot of 
time. 

There were three genuinely erotic pulp 
magazines, but their disguises were so excellent 
that the authorities didn't catch on for months. 
Horror Stories, Terror Tales and Marvel Tales 
would all curl your hair, even today. Ostensibly 
science fiction-supernatural publications, they 
packed more honest perversion into one page than 
one could find in Tijuana's most notorious den of 
iniquity. Plain, ordinary, garden-variety sex was 
eschewed. In its place, we were given flagellation, 
sadism, orgies, homosexuality, pederasty, and a 
host of diversions that popped the eyes from the 
sweaty heads of teenagers throughout the country. 
A typical story concerned the evil mistress of a 
castle who, out of ennui, staged impressive parties, 
during which she would drug her guests, take them 
to a dungeon, clap them in irons and torture them to 
death. Lush young girls were stripped naked, after 



Playboy, September 1962 



which operation their hostess would approach with 
a branding iron and burn the nipples from their 
breasts. 

Our attention to these magazines could fairly be 
described as rapt; however, they perished in due 
course, and I believe we were all just a bit relieved. 

Relief did not attend the passing, though, of our 
legitimate friends. Argosy — the Argosy of the six- 
part serials, of Zagat and Verrill and Brand, of 
Mongol hordes and incredible sea voyages — 
staggered on awhile, then turned into a slick; and 
we mourned. Doc Savage left us. The Shadow, too. 
One by one, the great magazines ceased 
publication. 

The last survivors were the best and the 
favorites: the science-fiction and fantasy 
magazines. They had everything the other pulps 
had, and more. The grand old advertisements were 
there. Sherwin Cody counseled us to speak better 
English from the pages of Amazing Stories. We 
continued to read of the near-tragedies averted by 
the use of Eveready flashlight batteries. The kindly, 
gray-haired man who proclaimed: "I talked with 
God! Yes, I did — actually and literally!" was with 
us; we could still Find Out Today how we could 
train at home to become radio technicians; we 
could buy Beautiful Lifelike Photo Rings; Learn 
Music as Easy as A-B-C; grace our faces with 
good-looking glasses for $2.95; insure our whole 
family for $1 a month; cure our piles with Page's 
Pile Tablets; or learn the Mysteries of Life by 
joining the Rosicrucians. 

Most important, we could still thrill to high 
adventure — in a day when high adventure was 
becoming suspect — with the wonderful space 
operas offered by most of the publications. For the 
junior Scientists and Astronauts among us, there 
was Astounding Science Fiction, a no-nonsense 
magazine featuring the extrapolations of such sober 
and serious men as A. E. Van Vogt, Robert 
Heinlein, John W. Campbell, Lester del Rey and 
George O. Smith. For the rest of us, either too 
young or too unsophisticated — or perhaps 
insufficiently bright — to enjoy Astounding, there 
were Fantastic Adventures, Startling Stories, 
Thrilling Wonder Stories, Super Science, Captain 
Future, Unknown Worlds, Weird Tales and — for 
the real, dyed-in-the-wool pulp hounds — Planet 
Stories, which featured Westerns, pirate sagas and 
Viking tales, all set on planets other than Earth. The 
heavies in Planet were invariably BEMs, or Bug 
Eyed Monsters, the heroines invariably "lush" or 
"generously proportioned," the heroes invariably 
"bronzed and muscular," the prose invariably 
atrocious and exciting. 



Amazing and its sister publication Fantastic 
Adventures led the field, with Startling and 
Thrilling Wonder close behind. Such was the 
appeal of their product that thousands of kids 
formed fan clubs, issued mimeographed and 
hectographed magazines, and developed into a vast 
but highly insular phenomenon known as Sf- 
fandom. To belong, one had merely to be 
something of a nut, so membership was all but 
unlimited. The object of Sf-fandom was avowedly 
the dissemination of inside information about and 
the glorification of science fiction, but in actuality it 
was a correspondence club for social misfits, most 
of whom devoted more time to the reading of letters 
from fellow fans, or fen (as their own plural had it), 
than to the professional magazines. It gave 
teenagers a rare and exciting sense of belonging 
and from its ragtag ranks have come many of 
today's most successful authors and scientists, so it 
may be judged to have been one of the happier 
outgrowths of the pulp craze. 

The authors we venerated, when we were not 
corresponding with new friends, were of a vanished 
breed: the loving hacks. They wrote for money 
(averaging two cents per word in the s-f heyday), 
but it was not their only goad. Pulpsters like 
Edmond Hamilton, Leigh Brackett, Don Wilcox, 
David Wright O'Brian, William P. McGivern, 
Henry Kuttner, Robert Bloch, August Derleth, 
William Lawrence Hamling, Ray Palmer and 
Manley Wade Wellman wrote pulp fiction 
primarily because they had a hell of a good time 
doing it; and however the quality of their stories 
might have varied, the enthusiasm with which they 
set those stories down remained consistently high. 
Whether they wrote of X-ray spectacles or time 
travel or beast kings of Jupiter, they wrote with 
genuine gusto. 

Until 1950. 

1950 may be taken, loosely, as the year the pulps 
gave their last kick. A few lingered on, twitching, 
then they, too, expired, and the pulps became 
another odd part of our heritage — fondly 
remembered by millions of ex-kids who never 
asked to grow out of those summer twilights. 

It is easy to sneer at the crumbling yellow 
magazines, and at the people responsible for them; 
but we should salute instead, for we owe the pulps 
an incalculable debt, of gratitude. They stimulated, 
prodded and jostled our young minds; they 
broadened our narrow horizons; they gave us a 
splendid outlet for our natural pent-up violence. 
Though attacked as propagators of delinquency, it 
is doubtful that the pulps ever led so much as one 
youngster astray; indeed, a glance at the criminal 
records of the day will reveal that the true 



Playboy, September 1962 



10 



delinquents seldom read anything but the fine print 
on cigarette packages. Parents' forebodings 
notwithstanding, the pulps helped us in many ways, 
strengthened and comforted us, led us to an 
appreciation of literature and prepared us, if not for 
life, then at least for dreams. 

Now they are gone, echoed dimly in the novels 
of Ian Fleming, their corpses dancing grotesquely 
in the flickering light of the television tube, but. 



truly, gone, and forever. Nor can they be brought 
back. 

Still ... if you listen very hard, very late at 
night, perhaps you will hear, distantly, the clang of 
swords, the drum of hoofs, the rat-tat-tat of tommy 
guns and the spine-chilling laugh of a man they 
called The Shadow. I know I do. 

Q 



PLAYBILL 



The words "Horror!" "Terror!" and "Thrilling!" are as much a 
part of the ad game as the three-martini lunch. But they are also 
the names of a few of The Bloody Pulps, those likably lurid dime 
novels for which whole forests were leveled and upon which a 
whole generation of American youth was hair-raised. Thumbing 
his way back through the pulps' ragged pages and rugged prose, 
Charles Beaumont, our master of memorabilia, now treats us to 
another of his nostalgic tours of the not-so-long ago. When not 
digging into the past for playboy, Beaumont has found time to write 
70 television plays and 10 full-length motion pictures. Among his 
TV credits are scripts for Thriller; Dick Powell Theater; Have 
Gun, Will Travel and Twilight Zone (for which he. Rod Serling 
and PLAYBOY contributor Richard Matheson shared an Emmy). His 
movies include The Brothers Grimm; The Intruder; Burn, Witch, 
Burn; and several others awaiting release. 




BEAUMONT